Hōrai is written 鳳来 in Japanese. The first kanji depicts the male phoenix, the second kanji carries the meaning of arrival. Hence, Mount Hōrai is a place where the phoenix swings by on occasion. Alas, more rarely than oft, I would think.
Type of climbing
Vertical to steep to very-steep-indeed sportclimbing on volcanic tuff. A good spread of routes from 5.7 to 5.14d. Almost everyone, even world-class climbers, will find enough routes to go at for an extended stay. Josune Bereziartu and Rikar Otegi stayed for forty days a few years back. I'm just saying.
Hōrai have some high class bouldering as well, but almost nothing, and certainly nothing good, under 1kyū/1-dan (7A/A+). Hōrai is very popular with the Tokyo elite, so there are a number of hard problems up to 5-dan (8C). Initiation, 4-dan, is a very well-known problem with three pinky-only pockets in a row on a 45 degree overhanging face. A must do for the so inclined.
Most of the climbing is on pockets and slopers. So if you have fat fingers, prepare to be humbled. (As an aside, I once met the father of rotpunkt, Kurt Albert, on a small nondescript crag in Frankenjura. When we asked him which crag he liked best in Northern Franken he held up his huge hands and said “this one, everywhere else is just pockets”.)
For sportclimbing, the most impressive faces with the coolest and most unique routes are on the various cliffs surrounding 鬼岩 (oni-iwa=demon rock), unfortunately it is an one-hour steep uphill slog to get there. ガンコ岩 (Gangko-iwa), a 30-40 min hike from the parking lot, is also a good choice for first-time visitors.
Year round. Some faces will be too cold during January-February, but there are some south facing alternatives, and bouldering is of course possible year round. Everything is to hot during July-August and early September.
Photos & Videos
I have a slideshow from Horai on my flickr-account. My good friend Yamada Wataru also have some photos from Horai.
Check the local weather-forecast before you go on weather.yahoo.co.jp
Just north of Shinshiroshi 新城市, north of Toyokawa 豊川, in Aichi-prefecture (愛知県). Here is a map from mapion.co.jp, a more zoomed-out map will give you an idea of where it is.
From the Toyokawa intersection (豊川IC) on the Tomei Expressway (東名高速道路) running between Nagoya and Tokyo, turn up on Road 151 in the direction of Shinshiro city (新城市). Keep your eyes open all the time to follow the sharp turns on road 151 as it crosses Shinshiro. After passing Yuyaonsen (湯谷温泉), keep straight on 151 until you take off left towards Ure dam (宇連ダム) and then Lake Horai (鳳来湖 only signposted in Japanses I'm afraid). After crossing the railroad, take right across a small bridge, and then directly left. Keep going until the road ends at a parking place with a public restroom. This is a good starting point for many of the best crags on Mount Horai.
The parking just mentioned consists of two zones. After the first zone there is a U-turn area. After the U-turn area there is another parking zone. The second parking zone is reserved for people staying less then 1.5 hours and for visitors to the shrine on the top of Mt. Horai.
If the first zone is full (more than likely on weekends after 7.30 AM) do not park on the upper parking zone! Instead, drop your gear and let the person who draw the shortest straw drive back across the bridge, turn right up towards Lake Horai and park on the big parking-lot on the right. From there, it is a 40 min walk back to the original car park.
Rules and regulations
Climbers are not allowed to leave quick-draws hanging from the routes overnight. According to the priests in charge of the many shrines on Mount Horai, this would greatly upset the numerous spirits that visits the forest; therefore, all QDs have to be taken down before nightfall. For the same reason, stashing of ropes is frowned upon.
Unfortunately climbing is banned on 乳岩 (chi-iwa=tits-rock*, the priests must have been lonely). The old man who have set himself in charge of the parking-lot will be delighted to tell you this in his not always completely understandable dialect.
フリークライミング 日本100岩場〈4〉 (Free climbing: Nihon 100 Iwaba <4> by Kitayama) cover most of the routes in Horai, and is available through amazon.co.jp as well as through every climbing gym and climbing store in Japan.
Sorry for being such a broken record: there is no topo for the bouldering in Horai. Seriously, someone got to take charge of the situation and start producing topos for all the bouldering in Japan. It's not that hard. Where are the trustafarians when you actually need them?
There are two campsites marked in the guidebook. I have only stayed in one of them. To get to that one, drive up past Lake Horai, after the tunnel and the second bridge there is a T-junction. Take left and the campsite is directly on the left. The campsite has a disgusting dry toilet, and running water from a tap. That's it. It is really cheap though, 300 ¥ pppn. No showers, but there are quite a few onsen in the vicinity anyway. My favorite one is Toei-onsen (とうえい温泉) in nearby Toei (東栄町). To get there just continue north up into the mountains along road 151 and follow the signs. Toei-onsen also serves decent set-meals in Japanese style.
When you arrive at the campsite, the owner will probably be asleep. Just knock on the door to his house in the morning. The fella keep a rooster that start crowing at around 4 am, so try to find a spot not that close to the hen-house.
Climbing magazine (US) had an artice about climbing in Japan a few years ago. Horai is mentioned in the article “The Way of the Weekend Warrior”.
This years summer issue of ROCK&SNOW (issue 36) has an extended article by KOYAMADA Dai about the famous roof ハイカラ岩 (=High collar†-rock). The article has directions, and an updated topo for the roof. Funny enough the topo was outdated a few days before the issue was shipped due to a new 14d, Spectator, by Mr. Koyamada himself. Back issues of ROCK&SNOW can be bought through amazon.co.jp
Handy words & phrases
Nanmei-sama mattemas ka? How many people are waiting (queuing to do the route)?
* Or more appropriately, “Milky rock”. Whatever.
† If you are interested in buying high collars, I refer you to The Vintage Shirt Company. According to my Japanese dictonary ハイカラ from high collar means a westernized, stylish fellow.
Such high collars are called parasite in French. According to one theory some joker twisted parasite into parricide, and thus the style became known as Vatermörder in German, and fadermördare in Swedish. However, the type of collar originated in Germany, and therefore the aforementioned theory doesn't ring true to my ears.